- "Many millions" of dollars worth of counterfeit goods were being sold, officials say
- Officials: Most of the goods designed to rope in unwary consumers are from China
- Assistant attorney general: "We will not tolerate those who seek to profit by abusing the Internet"
U.S. officials used Cyber Monday to announce court orders shutting down 150 domain names of commercial websites they say were selling "many millions" of dollars worth of counterfeit goods.
Sports jerseys and uniforms, DVDs, shoes and handbags, golf sets and exercise equipment were among the more popular purchases of "knock off" versions of name brand products, officials said.
Investigations show the majority of those engaged in defrauding rights-holding companies and consumers are from China, but the phony goods are also produced in other countries, according to top law enforcement officials. The officials say they conduct undercover purchases with the help of legitimate rights holders to confirm the goods are bogus.
They acknowledge the operators of the websites are beyond the reach of U.S. agents, and when the sites selling counterfeit goods are shut down, the same criminal enterprises sometimes simply change domain names and continue to prey on customers.
The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, the FBI and U.S. attorney offices cooperated in the investigation, dubbed Operation In Our Sites. This marked the second annual Cyber Monday crackdown. Last year, the government shut down 80 websites.
"We will not tolerate those who seek to profit by abusing the Internet and stealing intellectual property at the expense of authors, artists, and inventors," said Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer.
Breuer and ICE Director John Morton said that despite the challenges, increased international cooperation is helping to wage war on the theft of intellectual property.
The operation they announced Monday is designed in part to educate consumers to be wary of websites that appear to be offering name brand products at substantially reduced prices.
Authorities say they are unable to provide estimates of losses from cyber criminals, but are concerned that some of the millions of dollars in proceeds may end up in the hands of organized crime.
The government places banners on the seized websites explaining why they were shut down. Last year, the banners registered 77 million hits, so authorities are hopeful public awareness of the criminal nature of the problem is increasing.
"This is simply downright theft," Morton said.
Beyond clothing and electronic knock-offs, he said, officials are especially worried about the threat to safety and health when counterfeit goods involve such things as air bags, drugs, car batteries and engine parts.
"If the price is too good to be true, it probably is," said Morton, who added consumers can help themselves by being on the lookout for misleading labels and spelling errors to avoid getting ripped off.